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Norse in the Canadian Arctic?
May 24, 2014 4:42 AM   Subscribe

Over the past three decades, a Canadian archaeologist found compelling evidence of a Norse settlement in the Canadian Arctic. Then she was fired.

For years, Pat Sutherland had been excavating a site on Baffin Island (45 minute documentary). She found evidence of trade between Europeans and the Dorset, including European wood, spun cordage, and whetstones with trace metals that arctic peoples had no access to. Her work was highlighted in a November 2012 National Geographic feature.

Sutherland had worked at the Canadian Museum of Civilization which was re-branded the Canadian Museum of History in December. Details on her dismissal are fuzzy, as neither she nor the museum will talk about it.

Critics of her dismissal suggest the story of Norse settlement of the Arctic doesn't jive with the Conservative government's obsession with Canada's British roots. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been front and centre as archeologists search for the missing Franklin Expedition ships.
posted by Brodiggitty (48 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sutherland had worked at the Canadian Museum of Civilization which was re-branded the Canadian Museum of History in December.

Does this mean Ottawa is no longer full of signs saying "Civilization" and pointing across the river to Hull?
posted by srboisvert at 5:39 AM on May 24 [24 favorites]


That's a shame, the sign looks pretty nice.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:55 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


Critics of her dismissal suggest the story of Norse settlement of the Arctic doesn't jive with the Conservative government's obsession with Canada's British roots.

Does anyone -- even the most close-minded moron (note that I am not calling the Conservative government morons, because I'm not familiar with Canada's libel laws) -- actually see this as a threat to Canada's fundamental Britishness? Wouldn't this apparent Norse conncetion be absolutely dwarfed by the fact that, oh, I don't know, there were thousands of times more First Nations people who never saw a Viking in their lives? If one village is going to upend Canada's roots in the Commonwealth, what the hell do they think about all those other non-Brits who watched the Brits arrive?
posted by Etrigan at 6:39 AM on May 24 [3 favorites]




Yeah, I'm no fan of Harper in the least, but I'd be hardpressed to think that this points to a conspiracy about Canada's history in terms of its Britishness.
posted by Kitteh at 6:47 AM on May 24 [6 favorites]


Regarding that update, did the report actually use the word "bossy" about Sutherland, or is that the documentary's paraphrase? Because if the report on her actually called her bossy, we're back to the Jill Abramson glass cliff, women get held to different standards than men story.

Having said that, it sort of sounds to me like the issue isn't so much that the government wants to emphasize Canada's Britishness as that they want to tell a story that they've already determined, rather than spending money on research that is going in other directions.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:50 AM on May 24 [4 favorites]


I think you're pretty free to call Stephen Harper close-minded. Truth is a defence against libel.

Sadly this is yet another example of the Harper Government's(tm) antipathy towards science of any kind. First they gutted Statistics Canada (widely seen as one of, if not the, best statistics agency in the world) by making the census optional--prompting the then-head of StatsCan to resign in protest. Then they gutted funding for Arctic research (except for finding those damn ships). Then they completely destroyed funding for the world's largest freshwater lakes study.

Anti-science, anti-democractic asshole shitbag fucks, they are.

And they're denying her access to any of her research materials, most of which are in storage in the museum, according to the March update. She pointed out, rather tartly, that the research was paid for by Canadian taxpayers and the work should be done. I find it difficult to disagree.

This isn't about Canada's British heritage, per se; it's about Harper denying money to basic science and research. The article from arcticseal also points out that the firing happened in the middle of the transition from Museum of Civilization to Museum of History, and comments that this probably represents a shift from major research to a museum focusing only on aspects of Canadian history the current government gives fucks about.

Having said that, it sort of sounds to me like the issue isn't so much that the government wants to emphasize Canada's Britishness as that they want to tell a story that they've already determined, rather than spending money on research that is going in other directions.

Bingo, that's exactly what this was. The dismissal of her husband and stripping his Emeritus status were the twisting of the knife, the warning to all other scientists across the country (who have been, by yet another bullshit Harper policy, essentially forbidden to speak to the public about their work without ministerial approval) that they'd better toe the line or they're next.

Canadians, hold your nose if you have to but vote red in the next election, or orange if there's actually a realistic chance of an NDP candidate taking the riding; don't split the left/centrist vote. That's exactly what Harper wants, and keeps Harper and his cronies in power and we're getting to a point where undoing their nefarious bullshit is going to become an impossibility. The clock is ticking; we are near the point of no return, the point where Canada as a philosophical notion dies and is replaced by USALite(tm) (you can already see it in the current Ontario election; the Conservative (right wing) candidate is being advised on his economic platform by a Republican Tea-Partier).
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:59 AM on May 24 [51 favorites]


I don't know whether Canada is fundamentally British, but Britain is to some extent fundamentally Norse. That the Norse/Canadian thesis is being advanced by someone called Sutherland is something of an historical irony.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:05 AM on May 24 [4 favorites]


This is an utter shame, as the notion that there were trade links that deep into the Canadian Arctic is mind-boggling. Baffin Island is a fuck of a long way from anywhere the Europeans were - I wonder what they were trading for that they couldn't find on Greenland or Newfoundland? How did they find themselves there? Was it a one-time deal, or did they go back often? Again, I wonder why?
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:16 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


I'm naturally sympathetic to anyone on the wrong end of The Harper Government (tm)'s policies, but it feels like there's basically an ugly HR issue being glossed over with the travails of academic funding being described in ominous tones. Handwaving about Harper's emphasis on our British heritage and darkly hinting that she was fired to shut her up, and not because some toxic academic politics finally boiled over, feels like misdirection by her supporters. The Conservatives are wrecking things on a much bigger scale than one lifetime project that's not particularly challenging to any historical narrative.
posted by fatbird at 7:33 AM on May 24 [6 favorites]


Meh, when I read words like "bossy" I interpret that as someone who doesn't have the soft skills or political skills to do the job. It could be this person is an unlikable asshole.

I think the current front bench of the Conservative government are a bunch of atavistic baboons, but I seriously doubt that highlighting Norse interactions in North America is going to get you fired.

In terms of Britishness, it is really weird when you walk into a Canadian post office these days - portraits of the Queen and the bald prince guy and the princess whose sister has a nice ass and their kid, pictures of Canadian soldiers in uniform... really really really weird stuff.

But the Conservative muppets also take great pains to pander to "ethnic minorities", like the Tamils who occasionally block highways and do all other sorts of stupid stuff, the Philippino community, you name it, our foreign policy is dictated by the needs of winning ethnic votes, with very little to do with "Britishness."

Sorry this person lost her job, but it happens.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:53 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


It's totally political--you don't lock up and block further research on a subject for innocent reasons. Canada happens to have Arctic border disagreements with lots of other countries, including Denmark. Canada also positions itself as the Crown for multiple legal purposes, but for resource extraction, the Canadian government does so to take the place of the Crown for treaty and land claim purposes, even though it isn't that straightforward. This is why meeting the Governor General, normally a figurehead in Canadian politics, was critically important for Idle No More--and why the Harper government resisted this with unusual vehemence. "Britishness" is hugely important in these contexts, because the colonial basis of ownership is ultimately so fragile that even historical trivia can undermine them.
posted by mobunited at 8:09 AM on May 24 [6 favorites]


Related: CBC "The Fifth Estate" documentary episode, The Silence of the Labs.
In the past five years the federal government has dismissed more than 2,000 scientists, and hundreds of programs and world-renowned research facilities have lost their funding. Programs that monitored things such as smoke stack emissions, food inspections, oil spills, water quality and climate change have been drastically cut or shut down.

The fifth estate requested interviews with two senior bureaucrats and four cabinet ministers with responsibility for resources, the environment and science. All of those requests were denied.
I haven't watched the whole thing, but it discusses Patricia Sutherland's situation. Here it is on YouTube, if you have trouble with the first link.
posted by taz at 8:18 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


Regardless of who got there second, neither Vikings nor Anglos got there first.
posted by spitbull at 8:22 AM on May 24 [9 favorites]


This country is falling to pieces, and worst of all, we let it happen.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:25 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


you don't lock up and block further research on a subject for innocent reasons

You do if you fired the main and only researchers for reasons unrelated to the research.
posted by fatbird at 8:29 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


Come on, folks; Harper doesn't want this research because he doesn't want an important archeological site to interfere with exploration and drilling--in fact, he doesn't want anything which draws attention to the arctic at all, because what he has planned isn't going to be pretty.
posted by jamjam at 8:30 AM on May 24 [9 favorites]


I recently read Vollmann's the Ice Shirt in which it seemed pretty well established that Vikings had settlements in Canada. They called Baffin island Helluland and it was on their maps. not surprising some ambitious viking didn't have a go at trading and settling there.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:30 AM on May 24


Even better is that this post is here just after Canada played host to it's future German ruler Charles of the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha branch of the House of Wettin, which underwent a similar rebranding exercise to appeal to nativists in the United Kingdom.
posted by srboisvert at 8:35 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


Charles of the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha branch of the House of Wettin

That's a cheap shot; the House name has been Windsor since 1917. That's like referring to the South as the CSA.

in fact, he doesn't want anything which draws attention to the arctic at all, because what he has planned isn't going to be pretty.

I pretty much figure Tar Sands Redux, only bigger. Throws a huge surplus into the treasury, he walks out on a high note as the man who saved Canada financially and we have Tory governments for the next forty years.

Please don't let them win the next election. It's within the next 12 months.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:39 AM on May 24


I find it hard to believe that finding Norse relics in the Arctic would have any material effect on northern sovereignty. The relevant issues are mostly about where to draw the Greenland boundary and how to chart the sea floor to argue about who owns how much around the pole. Just as finding Franklin's expedition would not give the UK rights to the Canadian Arctic, I can't see how a Helluland site would allow a claim either. It's not even clear who could make such a claim: Denmark? Iceland? Norway? L'Anse aux Medows has not allowed Iceland to claim northern Newfoundland, after all.

As spitbull implies, it's not like Canada is great at respecting claims of pre-existing peoples who live there to this day anyway.
posted by bonehead at 9:04 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


This country is falling to pieces, and worst of all, we let it happen.

Yes, but I also blame vote-splitting too. Minority rules.
posted by ovvl at 9:05 AM on May 24


That's a cheap shot; the House name has been Windsor since 1917. That's like referring to the South as the CSA.

The 'South' doesn't officially have hereditary continuity of leadership. Canada does formally have a monarch and she is simply one legal name change re-branding exercise by her grandfather away from having explicit ancestral links to Germany (and this was awkward during WWII as well). This is a thread about history and ancestry and naive bullshit concepts of nativism. I'd say my shot is dead on and is cheap. It's free to anyone willing to look it up.

So even the very icon of Britishness that is on Canadian currency turns out to be a complicated and weird bit of myth making.
posted by srboisvert at 9:09 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


This is an utter shame, as the notion that there were trade links that deep into the Canadian Arctic is mind-boggling. Baffin Island is a fuck of a long way from anywhere the Europeans were - I wonder what they were trading for that they couldn't find on Greenland or Newfoundland? How did they find themselves there? Was it a one-time deal, or did they go back often? Again, I wonder why?

The Norse were well settled in Greenland for several hundred years, and it is already well-established that they fared at least as far south as Newfoundland. The important bit of information is that the shortest sea crossing between Greenland and mainland America is to Baffin Island. Indeed, their sagas say as much, saying that they went first to Helluland (Baffin Island), then Markland (Labrador?), and then Vinland (Newfoundland or even further south). Also, though known settlement in America is in Newfoundland, there were many more journeys to Markland for logging expeditions, on which they would have had to pass by Helluland.

It's of interest to note that timber from Markland is known to have made its way to Europe, meaning that, at least for a few generations, the Dorset people and Baffin Island were on a trade route straight from America to Europe.
posted by Thing at 9:14 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


Dude, you don't have to go back terribly far to find that pretty much most of Europe and virtually the entire UK has Germanic blood. At some point, you become from where you are, not where your (grandx) were from.

Yes, but I also blame vote-splitting too. Minority rules.

Oh hell-ass yes. As much as I may like the NDP, the only safe thing to do in the next federal election (and frankly the upcoming Ontario election) is vote Liberal, pretty much no matter what. Which sucks, but as we saw with the last two elections, 'voting your conscience' means 'oh shit Harper is fucking us as hard as he can and we let him.'

Buy fewer stupid useless helicopters. Employ more scientists. Sheesh, it's not hard.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:16 AM on May 24


There's already a UNESCO-recognized Norse site at L'Anse aux Meadows, NL so I doubt the government's actions had anything to do with national identity.
posted by peppermind at 9:28 AM on May 24


I doubt the government's actions had anything to do with national identity

1) UNESCO != Canadian Government

2) It has to do, as said above, with creating and framing a particular historical narrative, through a government-funded institution. That's... problematic, as they say.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:31 AM on May 24


This is a thread about history and ancestry and naive bullshit concepts of nativism. I'd say my shot is dead on and is cheap.

Yeah, it's pretty much like insisting Barack Obama isn't really American.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:37 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


Buy fewer stupid useless helicopters. Employ more scientists.

Harper could do quite a lot for polar science by getting off his ass and actually building those two icebreakers he's been talking about since 2006. Or the high Arctic research station. Or any number of existing or planned research projects which get great press then never actually go anywhere.
posted by bonehead at 10:02 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


This country is falling to pieces, and worst of all, we let it happen.

Yes, but I also blame vote-splitting too. Minority rules.


Don't forget the stunning lack of proportional representation, my lovely parents, who are shockingly blind to the world from their rural-rural-rural enclave, will vote for Harper until he shoots their cat, and of course each of their votes is 13x mine.
posted by Cosine at 10:34 AM on May 24


the only safe thing to do in the next federal election (and frankly the upcoming Ontario election) is vote Liberal, pretty much no matter what.

My provincial riding is in a slugfest between NDP and Conservative candidates, so voting Liberal would be a waste. But in general your advice is the right way to go, even though it feels awful.
posted by Harpocrates at 10:58 AM on May 24


So let's take the opposite tack; suppose she did do horrible things to her subordinates. Sexual harassment, maybe, or physical abuse. Even in that case, why not appoint a new team to continue with the research (which has been paid for already)? Why stop the research because you had to remove people for HR reasons? That is what makes this fishy, right?

I am assuming that since she was not the only person doing the work, you could get qualified people to pick up where she left off.

So why didn't they?
posted by emjaybee at 10:58 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a Brit who lives in a town and region with quite a lot of Norse history, this sort of thing doesn't undermine any sense of Britishness.

It's not like they could have banned afternoon tea, for instance. Too early. But I'd like to think I've got it in me to put in a good morning's pillaging and then sit down for a nice tea.

I always thought Canada was nice but it seems to be run by the Tories and UKIP right now.
posted by dowcrag at 11:10 AM on May 24 [3 favorites]


Without the possibility of vote-splitting, we would have the duoligarchy of the United States, and by acting like it's a two-party system for strategic reasons, we'd have another three terms of the Liberals as the "natural governing party" of Canada squatting in the centre and funnelling hundreds of millions of dollars to their Quebec cronies. No thanks.

And this whole Britishness business... WTF? This was introduced by critics of her dismissal as a far-fetched motive for the gov't to arrange the firing of Sutherland when they had no need to do so, to distract from the more immediate need to do so by her actual colleagues. No establishment of Scandinavian settlement on Baffin Island threatens Canadian or aboriginal sovereignty claims because the settlement is dead and gone. It's a historical curiousity, not a legal concern. No "narrative of Britishness" matters as much as the actual bureaucratic decisions of various fossilized federal organs in Ottawa.

You want to save Canada? Don't vote Liberal. Point at Justin Trudeau and laugh yourself to death at his "heir apparent" posturing so that the whole corrupt Liberal machine withers and dies like it should. We survived Mulroney. We'll survive Harper.
posted by fatbird at 11:37 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


Please don't let them win the next election. It's within the next 12 months.

Further to this, if you'd lost your right to vote from living outside the country, it's been restored.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:52 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


The NDP won far more seats in the last election. Don't we have the right to ask people to stop voting Liberal?

If we want to avoid vote splitting we could push our parties to formally arrange riding swaps. No NDP candidates run in tidings ABC, no Liberals run in XYZ. Other than a merge it's the only way to stop a split.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:08 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it's pretty much like insisting Barack Obama isn't really American.

Yeah pretty much. Except for everything.
posted by srboisvert at 12:16 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]


Two years later, her arbitration over firing is still going (and the silence that goes with it).

Right now she just wants access to her own research.
The documentary reported on a 445-page report done for the museum that contained a “repetitive litany of complaints” about Sutherland, mostly from former colleagues. It painted “an unflattering portrayal of a single-minded scientist” who was “bossy and impatient” and “sometimes spoke too bluntly,” the documentary said.
I just hope she gets to continue her research while she's in good health and up to it.
posted by el io at 12:33 PM on May 24


we'd have another three terms of the Liberals as the "natural governing party" of Canada squatting in the centre and funnelling hundreds of millions of dollars to their Quebec cronies. No thanks.

In the current political climate there are two choices to run the country: Libs or Tories. That's it. That is reality.

If you are saying that 5 more years of Harper slashing and burning everything that makes Canada Canada, and funneling off money to his transnational cronies, is somehow better than the only other realistic option, then I literally have no idea what to say to you.

Yeah pretty much. Except for everything.

Or, you know, not. QEII was born in the UK--after the House name change even. Her father was born in the UK, as was his. What, precisely, is the cutoff point where one becomes where one is as opposed to where one's parents are from? I'm the first generation of my family to be born here. Does that make me not Canadian?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:41 PM on May 24 [4 favorites]


In the current political climate there are two choices to run the country: Libs or Tories. That's it. That is reality.

Jack Layton built the machine that can kill or co-opt the Liberals. At this point, fatalistic, nose holding support for the Liberals is actually counterproductive. We have the current Conservative Party because Reform was going to extinguish the Progressive Conservatives. Sometimes hastening change is the best strategy.

If you are saying that 5 more years of Harper slashing and burning everything that makes Canada Canada

Your view of what makes us us is very narrow.
posted by fatbird at 1:02 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]


Your view of what makes us us is very narrow.

No, it's really not. But thanks for the insult. One of the more important things that makes us us is a focus on the future, and investing in society for a better future. Slashing and burning scientific research, banning scientists from discussing their research, slashing $36Bn from health care... all of these are things that no Canadian I know would have believed even ten years ago would be something a Canadian government did.

My view of what makes us us is that we pull together, we look out for each other; "peace, order, and good government," isn't that it?

Harper is pulling the 'fuck you I got mine' out of the Republican playbook because it is so depressingly successful. And is antithetical to everything I have ever believed about the country I love so much.

Jack Layton built the machine that can kill or co-opt the Liberals.

And then he died. 90% of that machine was the sheer overpowering force of his charisma. Mulcair can't do it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:09 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]




That's not a vision of Canada, that's a bunch of empty bromides that no one disagrees with, but claiming it for yourself allows you to stake out the rhetorical high ground so that you can indict specific actions later. Very good, Orwell would be proud.

It's still undemonstrated that Sutherland was fired for political reasons or that not turning over research is an act of suppression instead of simply not spending more money to further the research of someone you fired.

Mulcair can't do it.

Not when you vote like the battered spouse of the most successful kleptocrats in Canadian political history.
posted by fatbird at 3:25 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]


90% of that machine was the sheer overpowering force of his charisma. Mulcair can't do it.

Without Jack Layton, my main impression of the NDP goes back to what they've always been about: Proposing private members' bills in huge quantity and various degrees of frivolity. Click on any of the ones on the list, particularly those that sound like they might be a bit silly, and the odds are good they'll be from the NDP. Everything from creating a national breast implant registry, to declaring national fiddle day, to establishing a new government ministry to be called the Department of Peace.

At first glance I don't see any quite as crazy as those I remember from the pre-Layton past, like the bill that would've required ISPs to get a government license, or the one to prohibit selling cars that can go faster than the speed limit, et cetera, so maybe they're not as bad as they used to be.

But no matter, I'm not voting for any party that officially wants to abolish the Senate. Or weaken it. Or make it even more subservient to parliament. Those are the opposite of what's needed.

Stephen Harper, in addition to the sadistic megalomaniacal way he usually does things, almost seems as if he's trying to add a bit of NDP-style absurdity to his public image here, in reportedly making it his personal quest to have the government find the remains of the Franklin expedition. I mean it's great that he has some interest in archaeology, but shouldn't he at least be pretending that his current political career keeps him too busy to get personally involved?
posted by sfenders at 4:13 PM on May 24


Not when you vote like the battered spouse of the most successful kleptocrats in Canadian political history.

WTF?
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 4:21 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]


fatbird: We survived Mulroney. We'll survive Harper.

Umm, Mulroney is a Tory, ie. an old-style Conservative in the British sense, who, misguided as he may have been in some ways, appears to actually care about Canada and Canadians. Stephen Harper is a Neoliberal crank who's trying to re-make the country into his vision of a free-market paradise.

"You won't recognize Canada when I'm through with it" --Stephen Harper

We won't survive Harper unless we elect somebody else.

posted by sneebler at 6:53 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]




I actually had someone tell me last week that he didn't want to do anything to live longer because he'd end up paying more money in taxes. Man I don't know if I just lived a seriously sheltered life previously but I don't remember Canadians having that sort of overwhelming taxes=bad attitude prior to Harper come into power. The balance has shifted way to the right of centre on paying for things that make Canada a great place. The short term gain of lowered taxes that will inevitably result in long term pain from crumbling infrastructure and human resources is a swap entirely too many Canadians seem willing to embrace. Look at all those fools still willing to vote for Ford because he didn't raise taxes and he is anti-transit.

ArbitraryAndCapricious: "Having said that, it sort of sounds to me like the issue isn't so much that the government wants to emphasize Canada's Britishness as that they want to tell a story that they've already determined, rather than spending money on research that is going in other directions."

The Harper Government doesn't want to spend money on research that doesn't make money in the near future or that might shine a light on the environmental catastrophes PM Harper supports.

Metafilter: "Anti-science, anti-democractic asshole shitbag fucks"
posted by Mitheral at 4:05 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]


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